EGG AND CARROT
An Article Taken From the Website: HERE
A Template for True Freemasonry
In my response to one of the latest in a string of blog posts decrying "Freemasonry is dying" in attempt to garner internet traffic, I said that I am becoming exhausted by the endless complaints regarding our decrease in membership alongside a void of actual work and solutions. Quite frankly, these posts have no vision. “Who are we shouting at to fix the problems?” I asked. We should all know that this isn’t likely to grab the attention of Grand Lodge Officers who, in their defense, do not have the means to truly address the supposed problem. This problem (if you want to call it that) will be best addressed by individual Masons and individual Lodges who care enough about survival that they are willing to make programming changes to address the changing needs of the market. In saying that, it occurs to me that some lodges have figured out the template for future success while a majority of well-meaning lodges are spinning their wheels trying to figure out what to do. You have to do more than say you want change and expect someone else to enact it. While I was in college, the Inter-fraternity Council (IFC) hosted a speaker for all of Greek Life. This speaker, in an admittedly hokey manner, brought a textbook, a sweater, and a water bottle. He said the textbook represented out ritual. The sweater (with Greek letters) represented our membership (or Brotherhood) in our respective Fraternities. The water bottle represented the social element of our organizations. These three components make up the Fraternity experience. However, the individual chapters only function when stacked in the proper order. He demonstrated that when you use the bottle as the base, the sweater and the textbook will not balance. He then showed that if you use the textbook as the foundation upon which the sweater and the bottle can rest, your organization will maintain equilibrium. Similarly, in Masonry, the ritual (textbook) must serve as the foundation for everything else we do. It is what makes the Craft. The brotherhood (sweater) can flourish with the ritual as a unifying foundation and only then can social activity (again, the bottle) be introduced. Freemasonry has these mixed in various orders. We lead our pitch thinking that we must show potential-Masons that we have fun and we donate to charity. We might talk about how George Washington was a Mason. To establish these things, we work hard to make social activity and Brotherhood a reality in our lodges. Eventually, we have brought new brothers in on the pretense of these activities alone without properly addressing that Masonry is a body of philosophical instruction. BROTHERS, this is summary of mid- to late- twentieth century Freemasonry establishing how we arrived here today. What I find, is some of the most well-meaning brothers recognize the need to bring back education while still deprioritizing it below membership by shortcutting the paths to true enlightenment through the use of a number of non-ritual-centric practices. I hear those apologists say, “after all, who will we teach if we don’t have any members left?” We would be better served by initiating only those who seek the true path of Masonic enlightenment; those ones who will still fill our temples when the dust settles. Anything grander than this is in conflict with what the Entered Apprentice degree teaches us about our ego (buildings, membership, Grand Lodge viability). In the decade and a half since I heard the above lecture, I have been shown it's truth time and again. I firmly believe that those lodges who have prioritized along the stated pattern ritual >brotherhood >social) are the ones who will remain when the dust settles. In marketing terms, the unique value proposition that we offer is an intiatic experience coupled with a moral doctrine. We have the market on this product if we position ourselves as such. My close friends and Brothers know I like great dinners but that isn’t the unique product the Craft provides. You don’t need to be a Freemason to find a good meal. We aren’t unique in our charitable giving nor in our programs for youth. We have to lead with the unique value that only we can provide. The successful template for True Freemasonry is in the ritual. The ritual provides for spiritual growth. The ritual provides for love among brothers. The ritual provides for convivial meals. But it is essential that we discuss, treat, and run our Craft in that order. If you are an LEO, teach the ritual. If you are a DEO, teach the ritual. If you are a brother who loves the Craft, teach the ritual. It is on each of you. “Once you can get yourself to accept the fact that Freemasonry is dying, then perhaps some progress can be made in downsizing, consolidating, making Appendant Bodies stand on their own, raising dues significantly and other acts of resuscitation. Terminally ill patients require drastic and sometimes untried measures to save them.” What follows are several paragraphs explaining the data and its trend of declination. I’ll tell you, it’s pretty solid. I’m an analyst by trade and I won’t argue with these numbers. I once again will tip my hat to Brother Kennedy for his work in charting a path to our inevitable downfall. But wait! There’s more! Theologians and professionals within the scientific community have argued incessantly for all time regarding what “truth” is and how it should be discerned. Objective and subjective opinions, exegetical and hermeneutical debates on all things, not just religion and its books. We see these debates about the truth of matters raised in philosophical discussions, whether something is prima facie or absolute. We see it in discussions in the medical field, about law, you name it...we’re debating it. Freemasonry is always in the eye of the beholder. We love being subjective...to a fault. For even when we are given data and facts, we toss them aside as if they don’t matter because what we built and the perpetuation of its ideals as understood en masse, is sacrosanct. Examples of this are rampant. One example, the Forget Me Not. That story is total bupkis. We know the facts are out there. Yet we keep on printing the anecdote on little cards and packaging them with the pins that we buy up every year. How quaint, how romantic. We don’t care that it’s factually incorrect. Read about it here. A most recent and prime example is the research regarding our crafts founding by Andrew Prescott and Susan Sommers. In their research they confirm that our founding as an official organization was not in 1717, but rather in 1721. What did the Masonic scholars and members do? We screamed, “Who cares! It’s the spirit of it all….blah blah blah…” An effective solution for the majority of our membership. Not so much for those of us who are academically inclined. The truth as we should all agree, is that in the world, as science and religion are interdependent on each other, so are objective and subjective opinions. That is, the outside and the inside must come together to bring us the facts. In the question then, “Is Freemasonry Dying?”, we see a dilemma. We cannot answer this question because there is a need to separate two ideas, which is likely not readily apparent to most. We need to first ask what Freemasonry is. And the answer is that we are two things or ideas. Freemasonry is the organization which is beholden to a Grand Lodge, who derives its power and its existence from its contingency. That is, they don’t exist unless, or can’t financially exist unless they have/make money. The second thing Freemasonry is, and it's the more important thing, is that it is a philosophy, a school of wisdom. So, now that I’ve said my piece on the aforementioned articles, this is my take on the situation. My subjective look as a Mason and my objective look as someone who isn’t so invested in the idea that I’ve lost my individuality. I've been researching Freemasonry for about thirteen years now and there seems to be no shortage of information, ideas and general complaining about our membership numbers. That is, the number of Freemasons in the United States and it's decline over time. The obsession over these membership numbers has been covered ad nauseam. Especially recently. Fixing things has long been the goal. Above I mentioned that Freemasonry is two things. The former of the two ideas, that it is Grand Lodge is in most ways, seen as the more important. From a Grand Lodge Officer, “These men don’t realize that if the Grand Lodge dies, they aren’t masons anymore. They’ll be clandestine.” This notion is FALSE. This mindset is wholly predicated on fixing the “membership problem”. Meanwhile, I'm not sure that we need to fix anything. It seems as though Freemasonry is correcting itself in that we are reverting to the small, refined group we once were, composed of knowledgeable, carefully selected and true brothers. When I ran "surveys galore" as expressed by a post on "Blinded by the Light", it was interesting to see the take on it [my piece] and Jon Ruark's (see video link below) research into our decline. The aforementioned blog is stating the elephant in the room is that the Grand Lodge system itself is to blame for the downfall of membership. And in part it's true, but perhaps not why you think. I think I am going to say something here which not many people, possibly no one has said quite this way before: We aren't losing members and we aren't dying and we aren't going anywhere. Your respective Grand Lodge on the other hand, may be. Let me explain. In 1924 the Masonic Services Association started keeping track of the number of Freemasons in the United States. This number was based on regular lodges under the respective Grand Lodge system of that state. You can look at those numbers by clicking HERE. Notice the rapid rise and the steep decline. At a point we had almost 6 million members, now we only have about 1.2 million according to 2014. It’s almost 2019 and the numbers reported by MSA for 2017 are in. We have a little less than 1.1 million masons in the United States. Grand lodges are consistently pushing membership drives and one-day conferrals, amendments to the way Freemasons progress through the degrees and much more. But none of it is helping. Bro. Jon Ruark of the Masonic Roundtable did an excellent presentation this last year about membership numbers, which I mentioned above. You can watch it HERE. In short, Non Payment of Dues, suspensions and deaths are the culprit of dropping membership, coupled with the fact that not as many men are joining. But this is OKAY! According to recent Pew poll the percentage of Americans who have a belief in a supreme being is decreasing. The target audience for Masonry is dwindling. Read about it HERE. After all this though, consider these statements:
At Masonry's peak, from an educational standpoint (1900) Freemasonry was small.
The influx of men into the Fraternity during the 50s and 60s was an anomaly.
The craft built an empire based on an influx of men and treated that high number as the new normal, which for whatever reason they still measure us against today. This is WRONG!
Now that we are returning to normal numbers, the craft is trying to figure out ways to sustain the top heavy elements we built. I say, let them die.
What I'm saying Brothers, is that the membership drives are here in order to sustain what was erroneously built-- based on a false presumption about what Masonic membership numbers would be in the future. We are returning to the smaller group we once were, and that's okay. In fact, it’s healthier, and all around better. Why is smaller better? A prominent Mason, who holds a doctorate and who has written some amazing texts once told me and a group of Brothers, “It’s hard to care about Brother John Smith, if you’ve never met John Smith.” The context of this quote comes from a conversation we we’re having about the value of knowing all of your members. The exemplification of crying with, or laughing with our Brothers. Truly knowing them personally, like best friends. The prominent Brother continued, “We’re working pretty hard at making *Redacted* lodge smaller.” That really hit home with the one-hundred or so brothers in the room. The fact is, we cannot, no matter our intent or how hard we work, maintain this level of knowing, caring and being truly invested in our fellow Brothers when our numbers are sky high. Twenty to thirty men is truly optimal. Think about the benefit of having this small number when we need to call everyone. Or even text. Yes, there are robo-dialers, but nothing beats a real call or a genuine text. Not to just announce to the recipient that a degree or a stated meeting is happening, but to say, hello and actually inquire as to how they’re doing. In an age where we are only just now admitting to ourselves that we lie to each other all the time about our feelings, we dare to be different. We dare to ask, “How are you?” and what’s different is that the Brother might unload their baggage rather than saying, “Fine”. And to top it off, we can care. We can be there. The small numbers and intimate meeting spaces do wonders for enabling the Brotherhood we are charged to exemplify. If Brotherhood isn’t enough for you to get excited about, think about the amount of administrative work it takes to manage three-hundred men. Now make it thirty. A big difference. So significant in fact, that our secretaries will actually care enough to reach out to those members individually. All this makes lodges stronger, better, and more efficient. The bonds become so tight that there is no distinction between our Fraternity Brothers and our blood brothers. In many cases, we’re even closer. When I asked for a peer review of this piece, my Brother said "I'm left asking myself, what do I do with this information?" I'm not sure you can do anything with this information other than let it give you comfort. Comfort in knowing things are just fine. We are returning to our original purpose, our original aim. The Masonic "Utopia"? - If we look at the number of actual members who are active (about 5%), and we divided them into about 2000 lodges around the United States, we'd have about 30 members per lodge. Is that so bad? The question is left on how to facilitate those lodges in that kind of a system. A few ideas, abolish progressive lines, get rid of all appendant bodies with the exception of the York and Scottish Rite and move business meetings to a quarterly basis. Masonic education can take its rightful place within the craft once more. One of the most insightful replies to the question we’ve been talking about, I saved for the end of this paper. Brother R.H. said, “Freemasonry isn't dying. The huge influx of members during the post war years is the metric by which too many Brothers want to use for membership norms today. Masonry has usually been the province of the few who chose to seek light as opposed to the masses who joined during that period, looking for little more than a social club. Realistically, all the inactive brothers should be an indication of where our numbers should be and where they should have been all along. Our Fraternity is doing fine, just regaining its equilibrium.” In conclusion, think about all the successful degrees and new brothers coming in. Think about how serious some of us are. For those who say Freemasonry is dead right now, I ask you, “Are you a Freemason? Are you dead?” And I’ll follow that up with this, If you think Freemasonry will be dead in twenty or thirty years, Will you be here in thirty years? If the answer is yes, then Freemasonry will again, not be dead. It’s only dead to those who predicate success in numbers, who place the ideals of Freemasonry into the pocket of a Grand Lodge. Realize that Masonry doesn’t die because per capita is low, or that dues are too low or that Grand lodge can’t keep it in the black. It’s an ever living philosophy. As long as we’re alive and live it, it will be alive. I don’t mean that in just a philosophical way. I mean it literally. Lodges wouldn’t just fold. They'd refine and regather. If you think otherwise, turn in your dues card right now, because you’ve already rolled over. Go find another organization. If I’ve inspired you here, good. The next time someone says "Masonry is dying.", make sure you tell them, "We're not dying, we're refining." SSD